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Superstitions and Spirits

I was on my way to a sporting event with several teams from Chamasiri Secondary School when suddenly a black cat ran in front of our vehicle. You could hear the gasps and then groans from the students as they passed the news of the event. "A black cat." "Bad luck." "Bad sign." "An omen." I asked one of the other teachers about it. "Yes," he insisted, "black cats are bad luck when they cross your path." Even in Kenya the stories are here. I also found out that owls are back luck too. Never did find out why - something about their eyes.

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Kenyans tend to be very superstitious. Each tribe has its own set of stories. The Luhya tribe believes in 'night runners'. These are people who stay up all night and run around the village. Night runners make horrible noises at night. They hide in trees when people are passing by. Night runners may even urinate on you if you mistakenly walk underneath them. My neighbors told me you could tell who the night runners were because they had dark circle under their eyes and wild hair.

Something else my neighbors told me about was how they didn't refer to a person by their given name at night. Each person they talked about had a nickname. My neighbors did this because they didn't want any bad spirits to hear who they were talking about. These spirits may do their friends harm. I asked them about the nicknames they had given people I knew. The nickname for the headmaster at the school was 'Big Man' after all he was a rather large person. Yes, I also had a nickname. It was 'mzungu'. That meant 'white person' in Swahili. They had nicknames for everyone - there was no way I could remember them all.

Speaking of spirits, one of my neighbors showed me that he had three small scars on the inside of each wrist, at the base of his neck (front and back), and also by his ankles. When my neighbor was about five years old his parents had had a local doctor come to their home. The doctor inoculated my neighbor against bad spirits and disease by making these small cuts on his wrists, ankles, and neck. This was where these things could enter the body and the cuts, which became scars, would prevent it.

There were witch doctors in the village. I had several students that had had the witch doctors take things out of their stomaches with witchcraft and cure them of their ailments. Many students also wore black bracelets that were supposed to ward off spirits and diseases.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dawn Denton for details.



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